Why Can't a Woman Be Fat Like a Man?

Ladies, want to get elected? Get skinny first!

By Susan Toepfer
Kirsten Gillibrand, junior senator from New York, is an exception to the "skinny sells" rule
Photograph: Photo by Newscom

Think it’s tough being a female political candidate? Try running as a woman with a few extra pounds on your frame.

A new University of Missouri poll, which presented potential voters with descriptions and photos of four phony candidates, concluded that fat men were viewed six percent more positively than thin men, while slim women were viewed five percent more positively than their overweight counterparts.

And it gets worse: Overall, obese women were viewed 10 percent less favorably than obese men.

Considering that the vast majority of candidates are middle-aged, what special challenges these midlife women must face! Focus groups filled with Cheetos, pretzels and M&Ms; campaign buses awash in sugary drinks; deli after deli offering pastrami, burgers or mac ‘n cheese; and state fairs flinging barbecue, chili and a hundred homemade pies. And any candidate worth her district is expected to taste‘em all.

And yet we want these women to be as slim and fetching as a runway model or red carpet idol? Why wasn't the same expected of recently elected New Jersey Governor Christopher J. Christie? His opponent, the lean and mean incumbent governor, Jon S. Corzine, ran slo-mo TV ads showing Christie struggle to get out of an SUV…but the voters went with the wattles and Christie trounced him.

Women candidates know better—and many of them do achieve that skinny political ideal. Check out Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—Armani-thin! Maine’s highly respected Senator Olympia Snowe—sharp elbows! Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln—no chub on those cheeks! And let’s not even talk about former beauty queen and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, still bathing suit ready as she approaches age 46.

Of course, there are exceptions. Kirsten Gillibrand, junior Senator from New York, flaunts a fuller figure—but that may be one reason why out-of-towner Harold Ford Jr., a guy in nearly perfect shape, thinks he can beat her in the upcoming Democratic primary, even though he lived until very recently in Tennessee, where his family name is synonymous with state politics. (Gillibrand recently talked about her dieting efforts to the New York Post…maybe she wants voters to know she's trying.) While not exactly skinny, Hillary Clinton has never appeared underfed either, yet she almost made it to the same office into which 300-pound President Taft once rolled.

Still, with that 10 percent negative perception hanging over our collective heads, we have to wonder: Why can’t a woman be fat like a man? Why burden us with this extra dieting demand? And if female pols have to be thin, then let’s ask the same of the men. Better yet: Let them all, men and women, weigh what they weigh while we concentrate on what they say (and enjoy our own potato chips and pie!).

Susan Toepfer blogs at The Bumpy Ride, http://trueslant.com/susantoepfer/


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